Translating Egypt’s Political Cartoons

16 Johnathan Guyer Author PhotographJonathan Guyer

Political cartoons present a daily snapshot of the gut reactions to current political and social issues. With each Egyptian newspaper publishing about five cartoons daily – and some papers up to a dozen – a range of perspectives is conveyed through punchy imagery and text penned in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. Since the 2011 uprising, a new cartoon renaissance has swept Cairo, with a variety of new comic zines and exhibitions, among other media. This chapter reflects critically on the translation of Arabic political cartoons, both in broad and narrow terms. The questions I address include the following: How does one translate humour and satire? How does one convey symbols that are rooted in local contexts (and thus illegible to outside audiences)? How does one communicate the immediacy of a political cartoon’s punch line without diminishing from its semantic meaning? The word karikatur, which can be defined as either ‘political cartoon’ or ‘caricature’, is used to frame my interrogation of the multiple meanings of each illustration. Interpreting ‘translation’ broadly, I examine the utility of cartoons as a mechanism for communicating Egyptian politics to an international readership. In terms of interlingual translation issues, I explore political cartoons as self-contained mini texts packed with homegrown symbols as well as cultural creations that engage with music, film and other pop culture genres. Jonathan Guyer is an Institute of Current World Affairs fellow focusing on the intersection of art, mass media and satire in the Middle East and North Africa. He has been living and working in Egypt since 2012, where he is Senior Editor of the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, a policy journal published by the American University in Cairo. From 2012 to 2013, he served as a Fulbright Fellow researching political cartoons in Egypt. A frequent analyst on Public Radio International and France 24, he has contributed to Guernica, The New Yorker, The Paris Review Daily, New York Magazine, Nieman Reports, The Guardian, Jadaliyya and othersHis research on Egyptian satire has been cited by the Associated PressCNN, The Economist, New Statesman, Reutersand TIME, as well as a variety of international news outlets. A cartoonist himself, he blogs about Arabic comics and caricature at Oum Cartoon. Images from Jonathan Guyer's chapter:
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Figure 2: ‘Can I pretend to protest?!’, by Makhlouf
Figure 2: ‘Can I pretend to protest?!’, by Makhlouf
Figure 3: ‘The Presidential Race’, by Walid Taher
Figure 3: ‘The Presidential Race’, by Walid Taher